Kicking karaoke up a notch

Moments after singing with a band for the first time, Sandra Lierz was feeling a range of emotions.

On one hand, she hadn't been able to hear herself on stage, which left her wondering just how she'd sounded on Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" (pretty good, as it turned out).

On the other, it was undeniably fun.

"That's a completely different experience," Lierz said after performing at Jerry's Bar and Grill, on Wichita's west side. "I'm afraid I'll get hooked on it."

Promoters of Wichita's first "live karaoke" night hope more aspiring singers find the experience of performing with live musicians addictive. It's being held every Wednesday night at Jerry's.

Members of a popular local band, Annie Up, are replacing the prerecorded music that usually serves as a backdrop for karaoke singers, with guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and backup vocals.

Their manager, Larry McKellips, sold the idea to the owners of Jerry's after hearing about it being tried in other cities. The band has plenty of gigs on weekends but members can use the work during the week, he said.

Although some musicians blame karaoke for putting bands out of work, Annie Up guitarist Billy Soto said he's willing to give it a try.

"I've never been to karaoke in my life," he said, then reconsidered. "Well, we did use to go to look for singers."

Of playing with singers of varying levels of experience, Soto said, "It's going to be challenging. It's going to help me be a better guitar player."

Singers had about 125 songs to choose from the first week, ranging from Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" to Queen's "We Are the Champions" to Gretchen Wilson's "All Jacked Up." The band plans to add more songs as customers request them.

Unlike regular karaoke, singers used printed lyrics (or their smart phones) instead of the usual monitor with scrolling lyrics, and relied on band members for their cues.

"Come on, don't be shy!" drummer Kirk Russell urged would-be singers between songs.

Taking him up on the challenge were Lierz's friend and co-worker Rachel Cash, who sang Katy Perry's "California Gurls," and Rob Rogers, a beer distributor for Miller whose deep voice proved perfect for Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." KU ballcap pulled low over his eyes, Rogers even threw in a Cash-like "sooey!"

"Usually I'm singing in my shower or my car," Rogers said. Noting the impromptu country jig that Soto had performed alongside him, Rogers said he enjoyed "watching the guys in the band get into it."

Fun seemed to be the operative word. For now, Jerry's has no plans to turn the live karaoke into a competition or version of the old "Gong Show" where underperforming performers were yanked.

"We did this for the entertainment value," Jerry's co-owner Jeff White said. "If you're great, great. If you're not, have a good time with it."

If you go

live karaoke

Where: Jerry's Bar and Grill, 630 N. Robin Road (near intersection of Central and Tyler)

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays

How much: No cover. For more information, call 316-773-4100.